President Trump’s remarks that he’s “changed his mind” about Syria and its leader, Bashar al-Assad, after this week’s deadly chemical attack, has raised speculation the U.S. might be considering military action in Syria.
CNN reported that Trump told some congressional lawmakers he was considering military action. Reuters cited an anonymous senior administration official who said that the military option remained on the table in Syria. Notwithstanding the fact the United States, as a matter of policy, retains the right to use force against an adversary, the remarks gloss over an important point about U.S. military operations in Syria: U.S. forces have carried out more than 7,000 airstrikes in the country since 2014, as well as special-operations forces, against the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. The operations are said to have resulted in ISIS losing up to 25 percent of its territory in both Syria and neighboring Iraq. The strikes have hit ISIS fighters, as well as its oil infrastructure, a key source of revenue that has since dried up.
As the Syrian civil war raged on, the Obama administration was faced with a conundrum: Attack Assad, whose actions against his people, including the use of chemical weapons, had resulted in a massive humanitarian crisis, and embolden ISIS, the strongest anti-Assad fighting force in Syria; or attack ISIS, which murdered, raped, and pillaged its way to power in large parts of Iraq and Syria while enforcing its strict version of sharia law, and bolster Assad. The Obama White House chose the latter, ensuring that Assad, who also had the support of the Russian military, Iran, and Hezbollah, the Shia militia from Lebanon, is more firmly in control of his country now than at any point since the civil war began more than six years ago.